Church

The End Of End Times?

 

Recently I have been listening to a series of Advent talks by Bishop Julian Dobbs and in the beginning of his first talk he says:

In the Anglican Communion service there is what is known as the Acclamation where we say “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” – but it is the third acclamation that we are the most perplexed – can there be a solid basis for our hope that Christ will come again? When will it be? The Apostles of the NT appeared to expect the return of Christ to be imminent. And yet if you look in the Book of Common Prayer you will see that there is “characteristic Anglican caution”, there is a table that enables us to calculate the Day of Easter until well after the year 8000 (8500AD to be exact).

What will this return be like? Through our heads run the confusing vocabularies of ‘eschatology’ (doctrine pertaining to the last things or last days); words such as Millenium, Rapture, Armageddon, the Anti-Christ; and sometimes if we are honest it seems so unclear, so unimaginable, perhaps even unlikely (mention to a non-Christian that you live your life in the confident expectation that Jesus Christ will return again a second time to planet earth and you are likely to met with a look of bemused amazement!).

Yet it is impossible to read the NT and not see it filled with the hope of Christ’ return. One verse in every twenty-five in the NT touches on the return of Jesus. Over three hundred references, and two hundred and sixty chapters Jesus spoke of his return. The Apostle Paul called it our “blessed hope”; Peter described his return as our “living hope”, and running unmistakably through the Bible is the unshakeable conviction and insistence that the God who is working in history, (who has already established his rule in Jesus Christ) will one day bring history to a climax in the Son of Man’s coming in glory. One cannot read the NT and be in any doubt about that at all!”

And yet it seems that in my context (which is an Australian Evangelical Anglican one), discussion about Eschatology, or end times seems to have…well…ended.

For example I suspect that if I ask Christians in my context about their view of the Millennium, the response I will get is one either an expression of puzzlement and/or a comment along the lines of “I have never really thought about it that much to be honest”. I suspect that if I ask the question about Revelation 20:1-6 regarding the Millennial reign of Christ, the response I will receive is “I am a pan-millennial” – which means “It will all pan out in the end”. In other words:

Jesus is coming back and that is enough for me, so why worry about the details?

Recently I have been thinking more  and praying more and more about the second Advent of the Lord Jesus. I don’t know why, perhaps it could be now that I am middle-aged (43), or perhaps it is due to the increasing ungodliness and hostility towards the Faith from our culture. Whatever the reason is, I have been reading through Revelation and Revelation 20.

Historically there have been three main positions in regards to Revelation 20. Here is a very brief description of each:

Amillennialism

  • Very popular in the 5-16th Centuries
  • Believe that the return of Christ will not inaugurate his reign on earth, but will inaugurate his judgment and the beginning of the eternal age, Heaven and Hell will be ushered in.
  • Christians who hold this view say that the passage in Rev 20 is symbolic rather than literal.
  • Christians who hold this view do not believe that Christ will reign on the earth for a thousand years.

Postmillennialism

  • Christianity will become so wide spread that it will bring about a period that will represent the millennial reign of Christ.
  • Jesus won’t be present, but Jesus and his church are reigning now spiritually.
  • That for a thousand years the church will take over the world and rule the world in the name of Christ before he returns.
  • If a person holds to this position they would have to believe that the return of Christ is at least a thousand years away from today, as it is clear that the church is not even close to having governance over this world.

Classical Premillennialism (not to be confused with Dispensational Premill – which is very different)

  • Believes that Revelation 20 is literal not symbolic
  • Jesus will come to earth (his 2nd Advent)
  • Christians will be gathered to meet him (those who are alive and Christians will be raised with Christ)
  • Christ will reign upon the earth for 1000 years (some who hold to the classic Premill position believe the 1000 years could mean an extended length of time)
  • Then the unrighteous people will be raised
  • The world will be judged
  • The New Heavens and the new earth are implemented

The point of this article is not to explain in detail my position – (though for those who want to know, I was a former A-mill who is now tentatively and newly in the Classical Pre-mill camp) but is an appeal to clergy and laity alike to not avoid the book of Revelation, Revelation 20, and not to avoid eschatology.

I believe it is very  important that we reach some conclusion due to the fact that whatever view we conclude is supported by the Scriptures regarding the end times (including the  millennial reign of Christ on the earth), that will have a profound effect on our attitude to this world today, our responsibility for it and evangelism.

To finish here is a quote from one of my spiritual heroes – Bishop J. C. Ryle [1816-1900], Anglican Bishop, pastor, and scholar (whom recently I discovered was an ‘historic premillennialist’). In a work entitled, Coming Events and Present Duties, he wrote of his premillennial belief:

“I believe that the world will never be completely converted to Christianity, by any existing agency, before the end comes. In spite of all that can be done by ministers, members, and churches, the wheat and tares will grow together until the Harvest; and when the end comes, it will find the earth in much the same state that it was when the flood came in the days of Noah. I believe that the widespread unbelief, indifference, formalism, and wickedness, which are to be seen throughout Christendom, are only what we are taught to expect in God’s word. Troublous times, departures from the faith, evil men waxing worse and worse, love waxing cold, are things directly predicted. So far from making me doubt the truth of Christianity, they help to confirm my faith. Melancholy and sorrowful as the sight is, if I did not see it I should think the Bible was not true. I believe that the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ will be a real, literal, personal, bodily coming; that as He went away in the clouds of heaven with His body, before the eyes of man, so in like manner, will He return. I believe that, after our Lord Jesus Christ comes again, the earth shall be renewed, and the curse removed; the devil shall be bound, the godly shall be rewarded, the wicked shall be punished; and that, before He comes, there shall be neither resurrection, judgment, no Millennium; and that not till after He comes shall the earth be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. I believe that the Jews shall be ultimately gathered again, as a separate nation, restored to their own land, and converted to the faith of Christ. I believe, finally, that it is for the safety, happiness, and comfort, of all true believers to expect as little as possible from churches, or governments, under the present dispensation, to hold themselves ready for tremendous conversions and changes of all things established, and to expect their good things only from Christ’s Second Advent.”

So what ever one’s view, let’s end the end of thinking about the End Times.

 

 

 

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At Least Newman Had Integrity

“We have a real integrity problem in the Australian church, in the Anglican Church of Australia and within many denominations as well.”

This is the conclusion of an Anglican priest Rev David Ould, when interviewed about another Anglican Priest who in essence preaches and believes a message that is contrary to the plain teaching of Scripture,  the 39 Articles, the BCP, the Ordinal, the Anglican Constitution of Australia or in other words, contrary to the Christian faith.

The purpose of this post is not to outline the heterodoxy of the Anglican Priest in question, but rather highlight the heart of the problem, which is the situation within the Anglican Church of Australia where we have clergy who don’t mean what they say and say what they do not mean.

When I have told Anglican Christians who are faithful Bible believing Christians that there are clergy who don’t believe what they are supposed to believe, the question I am always asked is:

How did this happen?

This is a very good question. After all, one would be right to expect that Anglican Clergy actually believe what they say they do and mean the promises they make at their ordination. However at one level we should not be surprised, in the Holy Scriptures we are warned that there will be false teachers and false teachers are just as much a reality in the 21st century as they were in the 1st century. We are warned again and again, for false teachers never come in saying “I am false teacher”. They infiltrate and destroy, as the Lord Jesus Christ says, in Matt 7:15:

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

The Apostle Paul says the same think in Acts 20 when he gives his words of farewell to the Ephesians Bishops. He says in vv:29-30:

29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.

 The threat to the church is not going to come from atheists burning Bibles saying “God is dead! God is not real!” It is going to come from our own number who with Bibles in hand, with the letters Rev before their name (and even the title Right Rev before their name), those who have been to Bible college, who will distort the truth. They won’t outwardly deny it. But distort it. I remember years ago going to an Anglican Provincial Conference in Canberra and the guest preacher preached a series of sermons from the Epistle to the Romans. He expounded the Scriptures faithfully and the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ was proclaimed clearly and yet… afterwards the then director of ordinands of the diocese in which I served in at that time was asked by an ordination candidate what he thought of the sermons and he responded by saying “I have a different understanding of the Gospel”. His different ‘understanding’ was a not a different understanding but a euphemism, for ‘different gospel’ He did not come out and say, “I believe in a different gospel” as that would have been too obvious. False teachers will always infiltrate the church, so there is no reason why us Anglicans will be immune to their infiltration.

However having said this I believe that there are two other factors that have contributed to the integrity problem we have within the Anglican Church of Australia (and through out the world) today.

1. John Henry Newman  (21 February 1801 – 11 August 1890)

John Henry Newman was a Anglican Priest who became a Roman Catholic Cardinal, but before doing so worked very hard to try and re-intepret the Anglican Church  formularies, the BCP and the 39 Articles in line with the doctrines of the RCC. His infamous Tract 90, published in 1841, encouraged Anglicans to read the Thirty-nine Articles as a Catholic document.2 Now it must be said Newman was not a theological liberal, he did not deny what liberal theology denies. However what he did do (perhaps without realising it at the time), was to open the door for ordinands to publicly assent to the Articles, and to Anglican Doctrine, (which is Scriptural, Reformed and Protestant) while reinterpreting them to mean what they want them to mean. The problem with this I think is obvious, the theology of the 39 Articles, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal is Reformed and Protestant and thus to interpret them as otherwise whilst still signing oaths and making declarations such as:

I firmly and sincerely believe the Catholic Faith and I give my assent to the doctrine of the Anglican Church (insert province) as expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons: I believe that doctrine to be agreeable to the Word of God;

reduces the oaths and declarations to mere vestigial words and makes the promises made mere perfunctory formality.

One scholar put it in more blunt terms in regards to the legacy of Newman in this regard:

‘Whether he intended to or not, he taught us to lie’.

2. Liberalism

Liberalism sees itself as a reform movement of Christianity. In reality it is a form of extreme theological accommodation. So beliefs about the resurrection, the atonement, the authority of the Bible, the nature of salvation, the need for the response of repentance and faith, even the divinity of Christ are reconstructed to fit the prevailing culture in order to make the Christian faith plausible.

So…if  ordinands can publicly assent to the 39 Articles, and to Anglican Doctrine as outlined in the BCP and the Ordinal and reinterpret all along Roman Catholic lines, (due to the legacy of Newman), what is to stop ordinands reinterpreting them along liberal lines? “After all, it is all about one’s ‘interpretation’, so I will say all that I am required to say, and promise what I have to promise, but I can interpret those doctrines, and oaths and promises the way that suits my “different understanding. I can reinterpret the 39 Articles as the 39 Artefacts”.

The result of the above is that the Anglican Church has clergy whom at their ordinations, did not say what they mean, nor mean what that say when they were ordained.Which in turn has led to these clergy over the subsequent years and decades becoming Bishops, who did not say what they mean nor mean what they say when they were consecrated as Bishops, which in turn has led them to ordain ordinands who also will not say what they mean, nor mean what they say at their ordinations, and the cycle continues.

This is how it happened. This is how it happens. This is how it will continue happening.

However I believe that this must stop happening and what is needed is a call to integrity. If ordained clergy (be they Deacon, Priest, Bishop) do not believe the Catholic Faith, do not agree to the doctrine of the Anglican Church (insert province) as expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons: and do not believe that doctrine to be agreeable to the Word of God then they must show integrity and give up Holy Orders.

If a person is considering ordination, or is a candidate for ordination, and do not believe the Catholic Faith, do not agree to the doctrine of the Anglican Church (insert province) as expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons: and do not believe that doctrine to be agreeable to the Word of God then they must show integrity and not proceed with ordination.

I remember some years ago when attending Post Ordination training which was called CME (Continuing Ministry Education) and amazingly the subject of the 39 Articles of Religion came up. One of the Evangelical priests who was part of this group expressed the importance of actually believing what one says they believe and meaning the promises that one makes at their ordination. The director of ordinands (who remember had a “different “understanding of what the gospel is) responded by talking about the importance of not being ‘legalistic’ and ‘pharisaical’ about such things, and this Evangelical Priest who was part of this group responded by saying “I would rather be called a legalist and a pharisee than be an oath-breaker”. At this point the tension in the room rose considerably and the Director changed the subject, but this godly and courageous priest looked at me and the one other Evangelical Priest in the room and said “At least Newman had integrity”. This comment was lost on everyone one else, but it certainly was not lost on me, nor the other Evangelical Priest in the group.

This was the one good thing about John Henry Newman’s legacy.  Eventually he realised he could not reconcile what the Anglican Church believes with what he believed. He realised as an Anglican Priest he was saying what he did not mean, and he did not mean what he said and he could do so no longer. So he left the Anglican Church and became a Roman Catholic Cardinal.

“At least Newman had integrity”.

 

 

Further Reading: A very accurate piece by J.I Packer entitled What is An Anglican?

[1] The Apostle’s Creed, The Nicene Creed, The Athanasian Creed, The Jerusalem Declaration

An Anglican Dilemma

 

I encountered a blog post, from a Scottish Anglican who was struggling with a dilemma. They had to make the choice of choosing between:

  1. An Anglican Church that is liturgically Anglican, but is devoid of orthodox, biblical teaching that is line with the Anglican formularies, Creeds and with the Reformation doctrines embedded within.
  1. An Anglican Church that has orthodox, biblical teaching that is line with the Anglican formularies, Creeds and Reformation doctrines embedded within but is devoid of Anglican liturgy.

 Sadly the individual could not find an Anglican church that is liturgically Anglican where the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is preached faithfully, where orthodox doctrine is clearly and unashamedly expounded. The author writes:

What this means is that I have to make a choice. Worship in a way that I think brings great glory to God and where I am at my most natural in my response to His unchanging glory, or hear sermons where the Gospel is preached and orthodox doctrine clearly and unashamedly espoused and expounded.

 So for the author the only way to solve this dilemma was to resort to the third option.

  1. Become a member of the Presbyterian Church.

Again he writes:

It is easier for me to worship with non-Anglicans than Anglicans who don’t act Anglican. I use the BCP in my own private worship and sometimes turn up at Anglican churches for weekday services as well as my local Orthodox Church.

He writes of another evangelical Anglican, raised low-church evangelical, who faces the same dilemma but has gone to a liberal Anglo-catholic church but is thinking of going Baptist due to the lack of faithful teaching. He draws the conclusion:

What we two represent are the result of the tough choice that the liturgically-minded evangelical must face.

After reading this I thought to myself, “Why is there the dichotomy between Anglican liturgy and faithful Biblical preaching and teaching? Why does there exist this Anglican Dilemma?

After he retired as Bishop of the Diocese of Armidale, Australia, the Rt Rev Peter Brain spoke to a group of Evangelical Anglicans in the diocese of Perth[1], noted that people are desiring to be part of liturgical churches, yet here in Australia, Evangelical Anglican churches are being the very thing that young Christians in the UK and the USA are trying to move away from. He said:

The evidence from the UK & the USA is showing that people aged 25-40 year old age group are leaving Evangelical/charismatic/independant/non liturgical churches for liturgical churches and this is due to ‘the IKEA model[2]’) – our services have become very flat liturgically… There is an irony in that the only Anglican churches where you don’t have four Bible reading are Evangelical churches. And this is a challenge. There is pressure when there are independent non-liturgical churches nearby and don’t have liturgy so we feel we have to copy them, but people are looking for something more.

His observations echo an article I read recently entitled Young Evangelicals Are Getting High[3], where the author writes:

The world can give them hotter jeans, better coffee, bands, speakers, and book clubs than a congregation can. What it can’t give them is theology; membership in a group that transcends time, place and race; a historic rootedness; something greater than themselves; ordained men who will be spiritual leaders and not merely listeners and buddies and story-tellers. What the kids leaving generic evangelicalism seem to want is something the world can never give them–a holy Father who demands reverence, a Saviour who requires careful worship, and a Spirit who must be obeyed. They are looking for true, deep, intellectually robust spirituality in their parents’ churches and not finding it.

Retired Australian Anglican Bishop Paul Barnett lamented that the biggest threat to Evangelical Anglicanism was not liberals, but Evangelicals themselves. He writes:

The situation today is that many evangelicals today would regard even a modern Prayer Book Service as “High Church” rather than what it truly is, “Simply Anglican”. Evangelical Anglicans are often “victims of their own success”.  Their skills in Bible Teaching and the orthodoxy of their churches have attracted the membership of many from other denominations where the Bible has been set aside. Through lack of understanding of “Anglican” elements (notably liturgy), these new members have often influenced the de-anglicanising of our churches.  Many rectors have not resisted these pressures. [4]

 From my experience Barnett is right and he is wrong. I think he is right on what he is saying, but wrong on the timing. It is not a situation that is happening today, as if it has only just started. It started when us Gen-X-ers were teenagers. For example 1998 in my twenties, my wife and I left Sydney (and a great Anglican Church) and went to an Anglican Church in the upper Blue Mountains and to my shame I ignorantly wrote the church off as “High Church” when in reality the service was the normal standard Holy Communion Service from the 1978 An Australian Anglican Prayer Book. The church was not ‘high church’, yet we decided that it was both because they simply used the Prayer Book[5].

Why is this dichotomy so prevalent? Is it possible that one of the main contributing factors is that Evangelical Anglicans may be experiencing a lack of Anglican Identity? In their opposition to Anglo-catholicism, and in particular liberal Anglo-catholicism, the extremely rapid rise in secularism within Australian culture, combined with the desire to be culturally relevant, is it possible that some Anglican evangelicals have sadly thrown the Anglican baby out with the liberal bath water? Could this explain why there are Evangelical Anglican Churches that are theologically Anglican, but in terms of forms consist of a bland generic evangelicalism? Could this be the reason why the Book of Common Prayer is not used, read, seen, or even heard of? Could this be why younger Anglicans have a disdain for liturgy? Could this be the reason why younger Anglicans have not even heard of Cranmer and don’t even care?

Of course doctrine is more important, substance matters more than the form, and to put form before substance is to give the Anglican denomination the throne of which Christ is seated. However form still matters. If Bishops Brain and Barnett are right, if clergy are not resisting the pressures to deviate from Anglican distinctives, if Evangelical Clergy see themselves as Christians first and being Anglican a very poor and distant second, who view Anglican distinctives as something to apologise for, tolerate or even reject, then this will be modelled to the laity and in my view this Anglican dilemma will only widen . We may even end up with laity and clergy who are Anglicans by accident rather than by conviction.[6]

 

As an Anglican Christian and Anglican priest, I have strived, and strive to be Biblical, Evangelical, and Reformed. Yet as a younger man I had a very pragmatic approach to denominations and one could say that I was rather ‘post-denominational’ and I saw the Anglican church as merely being ‘a good boat to fish from’ which of course it is. However over time I have come to see Anglicanism in a much more vivid way. To be an Anglican Christian is also about being:

“Historical” because Anglicanism embodies a way of worship that was crafted in the first century, found new vigour in the reformation, and is still fresh with vitality.

“Liturgical”, because Anglican life is rooted and rhythmic. And through the liturgy it is collaborative, actively engaging all in the work of worship. And what a great blessing the Book of Common Prayer is!

A good analogy for to articulate this is to use the example of being colour blind. I am colour blind (though the term Colour deficient is the more accurate term) and although I think what I see is normal and it is what everyone else sees, it turns out that what I see is very different to what normal colour visioned people see. My journey as an Anglican Christian and as an Anglican Priest has been like a person who over time has come to see more colours, and I find this to be very exciting.

Notes

[1] His address can be listened to here.

[2] IKEA – is a brand of furniture from Sweden that is very popular in Australa. It is very modern, and comes in pre fabricated packaging that is very simply to set up and comes in flat packaging.

[3] http://thechristianpundit.org/2013/07/17/young-evangelicals-are-getting-high/

[4] This annual public lecture for the Anglican Institute at Ridley Melbourne was delivered by Bishop Paul Barnett on 13 May 2013. Bishop Barnett, who was Bishop of North Sydney from 1990-2001, is Fellow in Ancient History at Macquarie University; Teaching Fellow at Regent College, Vancouver, Canada; and Professor at Beeson Divinity School in the US.

[5] The church had no one our age, it was rather stuffy, the minister was about to retire and looking back it was not suitable for us as young married couple. But at the time I put this down to the notion that the church was ‘high church’.

[6] A friend of mine who is also An Anglican Priest once stated that he could easily become a Presbyterian Minister. On the Website of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney where the author points out that”On more than one occasion I’ve heard ordained Anglicans murmer that believers baptism is more biblical than infant baptism”. You can read the article here.